It was a Monday, when the weather hit 36˚ and I was sitting in my friend's bedroom. Looking at my laptop, writing my first cover letter after graduating, I finally thought, How did I get here?

Flashing scenes play in my head. I'm rushing out the door at 17, dumping textbooks onto the car seat. I'm 19 and in Melbourne, sitting on the campus lawn with my friends. I'm 20, spending nights in lockdown, falling asleep thinking about assignments. 

I pressed "Leave Meeting" from my last class back in November. Today is February, and I feel like I've been catapulted across time.

My post-lockdown graduation was comprised of flowers, parties, proud LinkedIn updates. But what doesn't make it to the Instagram story is the questioning — the praying, waiting, deciding. It feels like adjusting to a new gravity. Time is unreal and I am untethered.

But while floating in this cosmos, there are some truths that pull me back to Earth. I'm anchored by three things I know to be true. They're not in the order that I learned them, but if you'd let me, I'd like to share them with you.

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1. We have so much beautiful time.

I mentioned in a post back in 2019 about a conversation I had with one of my classmates, Lisa. At the time of our conversation, she was 51. Over breakfast, we sat in a café talking about what it means to "find your life's calling". In all honesty, the discussion felt a little funny, as I contemplated on how much she must've known, and how much I simply didn't.

I remember sitting there looking at my croissant, not even wanting to go near the topic. On 9th of June 2019, I wrote...

As with any questions regarding my future plans, I felt myself regressing into a shell of self-deprecation – a continuous slur of "I don't know"s and "I'm not sure"s. I don't remember my exact words, but it was along the lines of I know I love writing but I still don't know what to do with it nor do I know what to do with my life so I'm just I don't know maybe I can write I'm not sure...?

[Lisa] looked at me, smiled, and reached across the table. "Joanne, I'm 51," she said, "and I still don't know what I'm supposed to do with my life."

It is reassuring, yet still surprising each time I find that the people I deem accomplished — people who, in my eyes, have "made it" — admit that they're still figuring things out themselves. This tells me that, in contrary to all our fears, none of us are missing out. Nobody is falling behind. 

I don't think there is such a thing as "running out of time" to do what you are meant to. You have time. You're allowed to pace this. Surely God, or the universe, is not as hasty or impatient as we.


2. We are not our worst mistakes, but we're also not our biggest achievements.

A large part of stepping into adulthood is the sobering realisation that I can still, very much, mess up. I don't know why I thought that our ratio of human error would magically diminish, once we know how to hold a job or how to cook and clean. Spills and mishaps and misunderstandings still very much happen. And unexpectedly, I've had to learn so many times about the importance of self-forgiveness — of extending grace to ourselves in our darker hours.

I've always stubbornly walked into mistakes and learned things the hard way. Always been humbled by embarrassing failures. Always put on a brave face in front of criticism (while telling my inner child not to cry.) And I realise that growing up doesn't mean that these moments of ache no longer continue happening. If anything, they affect me so much more. But it is in them that I gain a more level-headed view of the person I am.

Whenever I'm "shocked" that I make a mistake, why am I? When the worst knocks me off my feet, why am I caught off guard? There is still pride that churns in my early 20s, encasing me in the illusion that I 'got this'. But in reality, who on earth does?

I'm reminded again and again that I am not my mistakes, nor am I my proudest achievements. We are not our valleys nor our mountaintops. I am not who I am when the pandemic first hit. I'm also not who I am when showered with flowers, compliments, wishes on my graduation. We tend to think these dramatic highs and lows define us, but really, they don't have to. 

Our wrongs don't make us worthless, and in a similar vein, our victories don't make us invincible.



3. Follow your curiosity more than your thirst for productivity.

Sarah Kay, who is my favourite poet, had someone ask her at the end of the show, When is a poem finished?

Her answer, though I couldn't recite it word for word, went on as something like this: 

My advice would be to try and fulfil your curiosity, more than your thirst for productivity. To ask, is there more here? What else can I find? And to follow what you're curious about, instead of what you want to finish for the sake of finishing.

As she was saying this, I realised it can be applied in both poetry and in life. Life is so much like a poem in that it's never about a word count, but about excavating as much meaning and connection as you can. How differently would we live if our motivation wasn't to tick things off to-do lists, but to follow something as simple, and unquenchable, as curiosity. To explore with openness and delight. Imagine if we find a path and, instead of dread how long it will be, wonder how much is left to discover.

One of my favourite gestures that Sarah has used in a poem, actually, is when she described that she doesn't want to move through the world with closed fists. But with open hands, facing upward. Vulnerable. Curious. Ready to receive.

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I am no fan of uncertainty. I may be a big proponent on "embracing" it, but I am so much more terrified of it in real life. 

As I'm writing this, we've just heard news that there'll be a third lockdown here in Melbourne tonight. Earlier, I witnessed the announcement surge through the city. Everyone on the streets making calls. A sombre energy slowly descending. 

To this day, I do not know how to put into words the weight of pairing typical post-grad uncertainty, with the anxiety of a world so turbulent and seemingly apocalyptic. But I know that it makes me feel less entitled to having all the answers — less of a need to propel myself into some abstract idea of success. I imagine it would feel so inconsequential, even if I were to become a famed writer at this very minute. 

Back in high school, my journal entries were all about 'future goals'. 

Nowadays, in my latest entry I'm pretty sure I wrote about "the smell of sunflowers". 

Because I just want to keep showing up for as long as I'm able. I want to keep writing, fully knowing that some of it will be better than others. I want to care way less about sounding profound. There is no longer any time, nor emotional and mental capacity, to wait for these words to be perfect. 

I'll pour my words as they are. I'll give myself to this world as I am. I will continue to soak in unbridled, everyday joys, that help to dissolve my anxieties around growing up (because there are plenty). 

In days like these, especially, I will clutch onto them — the old holiday photos, the songs I hum to while cooking, the view of sunset from my window. You realise soon enough that the thing that will save your life isn't a career, but rather anything in this life that can make you feel less afraid.

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What We Build by Sarah Kay
as spoken in her commencement speech for Scripps College's Class of 2015:

"Today you are graduating from college. You are off on wild adventures. And you are not just one of those three workmen—laying brick, building walls, building temples—[but] you are all three. Sometimes you will be searching for a cause to believe in and fight for, and you will worry that there is something wrong with you if you can’t find it. There isn’t. Sometimes you are busy dealing with the task at hand. Sometimes you are falling in love or taking care of yourself or writing papers, and you do not have time to build a temple or to find a temple you believe in. You are allowed this time. 

Or you may find it and believe in something immense that gives you purpose, but overwhelms you. You want to solve world hunger or fix global warming. You want to build the temple all by yourself, but you feel like your hands are too small. They are not. Lay some bricks. Other times, you will look for the job that feels fulfilling to you right now. You will want to be a necessary part of a project or a mission. You will focus on building the connections. There will be time for all these things. 

Lay the bricks until the walls are constructed, until the temple is built. Or dream towards the temple until you figure out which walls to build and which bricks to lay. Allow your perspective to shift, and shift again. You are in a continuous process of becoming."

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Watch Sarah's full speech & poem, What We Build, which may or may not have made me cry, here.

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